Monday, November 16, 2009

Is Jesus Lord?

Chris Thompson raised a very significant issue in his comments about my posting on Nov. 6. Even though those comments were based on a misunderstanding of what I intended to say, they are of great importance, nonetheless. When I wrote that Jesus must be lord of all if he is to be Lord at all, I was thinking about the Lordship of Jesus for one who professes faith in Jesus. Chris took it as a reference to the universal Lordship of Christ, a different topic, but one which is also quite important.

In thinking about the Lordship of Jesus, we need to realize that for the early Christians the choice they had to make was whether to acknowledge Caesar as lord or to confess Jesus as Lord. That was a serious political decision. Thus, confessing Jesus as Lord is never just a personal matter. But it is an significant personal decision, too.

Citing "Tink" Tinker, the Native American theologian whose book American Indian Liberation I have just purchased and started to read, Chris questions whether "lordship" is an appropriate concept for contemporary Christians and asserts that any attempt to seek to force that lordship on others is certainly not appropriate. I wholeheartedly agree with the latter point, but is lordship a completely outmoded concept? (It is interesting that Dr. Cone didn't seem to think so when he wrote God of the Oppressed.)

Paul Tillich, the noted twentieth century theologian, referred to faith as one's "ultimate concern." If that be true, as I think it probably is, we can go on to say that our ultimate concern is that to which we give our primary allegiance. Thus, the object of our ultimate concern is our "lord," even though we might want to use some other term.

Today it is rarely an earthly Caesar that calls for people's allegiance, at least in most of the so-called industrialized nations. Today's "Caesars" are mostly "isms" -- such as hedonism, materialism, nationalism, or even rationalism. These sorts of things are the object of many people's ultimate concerns. Thus, they are the powers that lord it over people's daily lives.

So we are faced with the choice: whether to confess Jesus as Lord and to live by his teachings and values or whether to live in allegiance to some other lord, such as one or more of the prevailing isms of our society. To confess Jesus as Lord has political, economic, familial, recreational, and other ramifications. And it is in this regard that I affirm again, if Jesus is to be Lord at all, he must be Lord of all.


  1. Leroy,

    "Lord of all" is a universal statement, not a personal statement --- i.e., "Lord of all" refers to the profession by all people and peoples to the lordship of Jesus Christ, or at least the desire that Jesus be received by all peoples as Lord. It is not a personal concept in the quote, so it is not a misreading of that quote.

    Also, you give as the only choice either (a) acceptance of Jesus Christ, or (b) anything else, which you refer to as the "isms," confirming for me your view of the universal nature of the lordship of Jesus in the quote you reference, despite your assertions to the contrary.

    Jesus is not Lord of all as he is not accepted by all people as such, yet that does not mean that people who do not accept Jesus as Lord of all fall automatically into the category of "isms." There are Buddhists, Muslims, American Indians, Hindus, etc., who do not accept Jesus as Lord, but who also reject the "isms" you reference.

    As for the use of "lord," it is time to discard relics of the past that do not fit our context. We do not have "lords" anymore. That term is, at best, an anachronism, and at worst, a symbol of power, conquest and coercion. If we do not want the Christianity we hold dear to be viewed as irrelevant today, or, worse yet, destructive, then let's move beyond anachronisms and harmful/destructive language to communicate our faith. Let's, as followers of Jesus, find more adequate, constructive language to affirm the importance of this person in the lives of those who follow him. If we are serious about justice, let us take seriously the voices of George Tinker and others who find injustice in the Christian faith, and, rather than prooftext a reason to continue to use damaging language(find someone of a different oppressed group who does not find fault with our use of certain terms, etc., to support our right to continue to use it, though it may offend a different group), let us seek to dismantle those elements of our faith that perpetuate injustice to all or any oppressed group.

  2. Come on, Chris, "Lord of all" can be a universal statement, of course, and maybe it should be. But I heard that statement before you were born, and the way it was used then and the way I was using it was, indeed, as a personal statement. That is, it refers to the necessity of total Lordship for one who professes "Jesus is Lord."

    Please be fair in your criticism. You can interpret statements as you choose, of course, but it is not fair to insist that I interpret statements I make or quote in the way you chose. If I use a statement with a given meaning, you have to try to understand what my interpretation is. You are free to disagree with my interpretation and suggest a different interpretation might be better. But do you have the right to say that how I use a statement is wrong because you do not agree with it?

    Since I was not making a universal statement, I made the contrast between the lordship of Jesus or having some ism as Lord. I was not writing for or about people in other faith traditions, a different--and important-- subject that I may address later. But as the people on my contact list and the people who will be reading my blog postings are perhaps without exception, unfortunately, people within the Christian tradition, they were the audience for whom I was writing.

  3. The word lord has lost its meaning and punch in our modern/ postmodern world, now just a titular "Lord" in isolated places.

    However, I cannot think of a better term to replace it. Jesus Christ's claims of divinity, and in-class exclusivity with life changing claims and life threatening demands, even acceptance by his followers as the pre-time creator don't leave much room to wiggle. His and his Church's focus on extension to all peoples/ nations cannot be forgotten. For the seekers, his claims must either be accepted or abandoned - many of his direct followers abandoned when his claims became to hard.

    Unfortunately the church has pushed this in a tyrannical way on earth, especially after the great schism. Some have focused on citizenship/lordship of a spirit realm, which has some crossover into our setting for good and an invitation to all of all nations to join the other realm.

  4. The term "Jesus is my Lord" is a confession of faith shared by an individual. The suggestion that "Jesus is Lord", implying that it refers to a universal reality is a claim made by a church or part of a church and should be discussed in a respectful manner with those who do not make the claim that "Jesus is my Lord." In the Gospels Jesus lived in a unity with God, whom he called Father, and lived in a way that invited others to follow him. He invited individuals to follow him not to worship him.

  5. Well, I had a brilliant post ready, but Google tells me it is too long. I'll try editing tomorrow, and post more then!

  6. Let me try to be concise this time. Last night I watched the third and final episode of a Nova PBS special on modern human evolution. With that in mind, I believe we need to face what science has to say about us if we are to create a framework within which different religions can relate. We are products of both biological and cultural evolution. Our own Christianity has evolved considerably during its two thousand year course. All known active religions evolve, even if they try to pretend they do not. Evolution is a large canvas on which we can paint a portrait of religion.

    Dr. Cone, on his recent visit to William Jewell College, emphasized that the universal is found in the particular. I believe this can be a powerful basis for mutually sharing the universal between religions. As we compare the styles, strategies, values and methods of different religions, we can all learn more about our own. With that deepening wisdom we can challenge ourselves, and each other, to reach a higher potential in our religions. Certainly Dr. Cone illustrated this within Christianity, as he challenged "white theology" to learn from "Black Theology." The power of his critique was that he could challenge each person in his or her own conscience.

    The power of evolution in this is providing a setting for the comparison. Evolution looks at the adaptive quality of different options, and how similar problems are solved in parallel situations. It also looks at how old solutions to old problems are reworked into new solutions. The world's great religions all have thousands of years of history to consider. Each can consider how it has addressed the core challenges of human existence.

    Yet evolution challenges us all with a call to humility, as well. Our earth has been here over 4.5 billion years, while our version of the human race only counts about 140 thousand years. The Neanderthals in Europe lasted nearly 400 thousand, before vanishing just a few thousand years ago. Indeed, one of the markers of the spread of our species has been the disappearance of many large animals around the world. Even within our species, wave after wave of populations have moved through most parts of the world. Like the blood of Abel, the traces of earlier inhabitants call to us from most places on the earth. To see the latest to be fading away, look to the aborigines left in a few corners such as Africa, Australia and Japan. When traces are found from more than a few thousand years ago, most of them are tied to lost aborigines, whether in central Asia, or America.

    The book of Genesis begins with great stories of creation and awakening. Similar stories are in both other religions and in science. Are we brave enough to enter a new enlightenment, based on the best of all? If Christians are not brave enough to learn to reread our scriptures, what hope is there that we can persuade other religions to do the same? A prophetic challenge confronts us all.

  7. I appreciate these insightful comments by Craig; the longer version which he sent me by e-mail was even more profound, I thought. In it he wrote a bit more about the universal being seen in the particular, which I plan to write about in my posting for Nov. 23 or 24.

  8. Leroy,

    I believe my criticism is fair both with regard to the use of the word "Lord" and with the use of the reference to "Jesus is Lord of all." Your disagreement with my points do not make my points "unfair." Do not forget that it is the reference to Jesus is Lord "of all" that is at issue, which is much different than the personal usage you suggest. As I've mentioned before, I have no qualms with any individual confessing that "Jesus is Lord" for that individual if he or she prefers to use the antiquated language of "Lord." I do have an issue with anyone claiming that "Jesus is Lord of all" on behalf of others or feeling that the "of all" is necessary to any individual's faith. Your statement that Jesus' lordship of all is normative (i.e., the "maybe it should be" reference) is telling. You are defensive in your response to my interpretation, yet then suggest that the universalism of the statement (which is the interpretation I gave) may be accurate or appropriate. If you believe that "Lord of all" may be accurate or appropriate, then how am I being unfair in my interpretation of the usage of "Lord of all" by you or anyone else?

    I have the right to insist upon an interpretation of a third person's words (you were quoting from someone else when you used initially the reference to "Jesus is Lord of all or Lord of none") as much as you have the right to insist upon your own interpretation of those words in supporting your position. When you write that the opposite of following Jesus is falling into one of the various "isms," then you have universalized the use of "Lord of all," correct?

    Again, I ask you -- what does Lord of all mean when you use it? What does it mean to say "Jesus is Lord of all, or Jesus is Lord of none." What does the "of all" refer to if not to all people?

    With respect to your comment that you used and heard the term "Lord of all" before I was born, I'm not sure of the relevance or logic of the point, as the holocaust and segregation were a part of history that occurred prior to my birth as well. As I've said before, there are things of our past that should remain in our past.